Section G. Epilogue (21:1-25)
21:1 Sea of Tiberias (official name after the Roman emperor) is the same as the Sea of Galilee (popular name).
21:2 There were 7 of them, including John and James, the sons of Zebedee who are never named in this Gospel.
21:3 Peter’s proposal signifies his thought of turning back to their former occupation. The general impression is that they acted like men without a purpose.
21:5 The diminutive “children” was used by Jesus. The question appears to expect a negative answer: “You haven’t caught any fish, have you?”
21:7 The impulsive Peter threw his coat around him, probably to want to be sufficiently dressed when he reached the shore to give the usual religious greeting.
21:8 The boat was 200 cubits (100 yards) from the shore. Because the disciples could not lift the net, they dragged the net full of fish behind the boat to the shore.
21:9 The breakfast was made ready.
21:10 There was not enough food cooked for all so Jesus requested for more fish.
21:11 The fish were big ones. It was in the power of the risen Lord that the net did not break. There were speculations on the number 153. For example, it is the sum of numbers from 1 to 17, which is the sum of 10, the number of commandments and hence of the Law and the OT, and 7, the seven churches of Revelation representing the NT. But these were not based on rules of biblical exposition.
21:12 There was something unusual about Jesus’ appearance.
This passage must be taken in conjunction with Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus. Before, in the presence of the enemy, he denied his Lord three times; now, in the presence of friends, he affirmed three times that he loved his Lord. This represents the restoration of Peter to his rightful place of leadership.
21:15 The word “these” is not defined. The question might mean: (a) Do you love me more than these men love me? (b) Do you love me more than you love these men? (c) Do you love me more than you love these things?
(a) Peter had explicitly professed a devotion to Jesus that exceeded that of the other apostles (13:37; 15:12-13). It may be that Jesus was asking Peter whether, in light of what had since happened, he still thought that his love for his Lord exceeded that of all the others? Perhaps this is most likely meaning of the three.
(b) Where did his supreme affection lie? With his companions or with Jesus whom he denied?
(c) The things probably refers to the fishing equipment and all that it stood for. This symbolized an entire way of life. Peter was challenged as to his whole future.
Peter’s reply was an ungrudging affirmative. “You” is emphatic, as Peter appealed to the sure knowledge possessed by the Master.
Peter used the same verb for “love” (Gr. phileo) all three times, but Jesus used agapeo the first two times and phileo the third time. Many commentators hold that the change of this word is significant.
A first group of commentators (e.g. Westcott) maintain that the word Jesus used in the first two questions denotes a higher kind of love, while Peter’s word points to a lower form of love, perhaps no more than a liking. Jesus was questioning Peter as to whether he had a profound love for Him, and Peter, not daring to claim so much, replied that he was fond of Jesus. Then in His third question, Jesus descended to Peter’s level.
They believe that agapeo denotes a higher kind of love, a deep-seated, thorough-going, intelligent and purposeful love, a love in which the entire personality (not only emotions but also the mind and the will) plays a prominent part; while phileo denotes spontaneous natural affection, in which the emotions play a more prominent role than either the intellect or the will. Some describe agapeo as the sacrificial love and phileo as the friendly love.
A second group of commentator, however, reverse the meaning of the two words. They see Jesus as inquiring whether Peter had a rather cool affection (agapeo) for him and Peter as replying that he had more than that, he had a warm and personal love (phileo). Then in the last question, Jesus rose to Peter’s word.
They understand agapeo to mean “the esteem existing between benefactor and recipient” and phileo as “the personal affection existing between members of the same family.” The Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible) regards agapeo as “less expressive of emotions of tenderness, of personal feeling and affection, than that verb used by Peter in his reply.” Barclay explains that agapeo involves more of the head than of the heart while phileo involves the warmest and most tender affection.
A third group of commentators (mostly modern) believe that there is no significant difference. (a) The change is no more than a literary variation. It is John’s habit of introducing slight variations in repetitions without real difference in meaning. For example, the Beloved Disciple is several times called “on egapa” and once “on ephilei” (20:2), different words for the same person. (b) The original conversation was probably in Aramaic so that the choice of words in Greek would be John’s rather than that of Jesus’ and Peter’s. (c) Peter seemed concerned that his love was called into question, not about the precise quality of love that he displayed. (d) The patristic commentators did not treat the variation of words here as significant.
As for Jesus’ charge to Peter, some think that the change in words indicates that Peter was charged to do more things than one and to do them both to the lambs and the sheep. Most people, however, take the variation as no more than stylistic. Peter was being commissioned to tend the flock of Christ.
Greek: (1) Boske ta arnia mou, (2) Poimaine ta probatia mou, (3) Boske ta probatia mou.
NIV: (1) feed my lambs, (2) take care of my sheep, (3) feed my sheep.
21:16 The verb has a slightly broader meaning of “exercise the office of shepherd” over against simply “feed” in v.15.
21:17 Peter was very sad because he was asked the same question three times (clearly said in the text), not because of a change in the verb used. His sorrow at the threefold question impelled him to a somewhat fuller reply. But there was no “yes, Lord” like the two previous replies. He did not venture on his own affirmative this time, but relied on the Lord’s intimate knowledge of all things, and specifically His knowledge of His servant. The word for “know” here is different from his previous replies but again this is stylistic.
Peter was restored to a place of trust. But the only thing about which Jesus questioned Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock was love. This is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensable.
21:18 I tell you the truth, again. In youth, Peter fastened his own belt and went where he willed. In old age, he would be restrained, and no longer master of his movement. The stretching forth of the hands was held in the early church to refer to Peter’s crucifixion. Tertullian tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero. Eusebius reports that at his own request Peter was crucified head downward but most scholars find little reason for accepting this.
21:19 The word “follow” is in present tense meaning “keep on following”. Peter had followed Christ, but not continuously in the past. For the future, he was to follow steadfastly.
21:20 Jesus was withdrawing a little with Peter and John was behind them.
21:22 It is no business of Peter’s what is to happen to the other. Even if Jesus wills that John remained alive until He returns, what is that to Peter? Again, “follow” is in present imperative.
21:23 John wants us to be clear on what Jesus said and what he did not say. His “but” is a strong adversative.
The last two verses look like a conclusion written by someone other than John. A group is authenticating what has been written: “We know that his testimony is true.” However, to end the original Gospel in v.23 seems impossible. So it is suggested that the author is here supported by others who can vouch for his testimony and that he then goes on to write verse 25 in his own name.
21:24 This is a testimony to the reliability of the Gospel’s author. The use of the present tense may be another indication that he was still living. “These things” refers to the whole book.
21:25 The author has not written all he knows about Jesus. Our knowledge of the truth is at best partial and we must remain humble.